I have difficulty finding books to read using our library’s online system. If you know the author or the title it works great, but when you are searching for good novels across various genres written by authors that you have not previously read and only in ebook form and available right now, it’s not as helpful.
I have, in the past, looked up Pulitzer/Booker/Giller/Edgar/Hugo or other longlists in my browser before searching but that’s an extra step that I don’t always have the patience to follow.
My newest approach is to type “novel” in the search field and use the filters to include only ebooks available now. I can also make genre choices to narrow the options. Then I have to rely on the description plus any inclusions in the library’s lists of recommendations as well as random reader reviews to help me decide. The preview option seems to have disappeared which means I have to commit to taking the book out to see what I think.
This process worked the first time. I discovered “Girl at War” by Sara Novic, a story about a ten year old girl living in Zagreb in 1991. I knew nothing about that conflict from the inside but now I have a start. The prose was good and the characters interesting, though the secondary ones felt disposable and some of the plot didn’t feel inevitable. Still, a worthwhile read.
Second novel, “A Noise Downstairs” by Linwood Barclay, was a failure.
This is a thriller that opens with a prologue. I had some reservations with the prose.
“A busted taillight was the kind of thing that undoubtedly would annoy Kenneth. The car’s lack of back-end-symmetry, the automotive equivalent of an unbalanced equation, would definitely irk Kenneth, a math and physics professor.”
Is this an interesting character observation? Perhaps. But the wording irritated me. The repetition of “undoubtedly would annoy Kenneth” and “would definitely irk Kenneth” is a little cute for this reader, though, if it were left as a parallel sentence construction without the “a math and physics professor” tagged at the end it probably wouldn’t have bothered me.
But the subordinate clause at the end of the paragraph is what sticks out. Remove the analogy of the equation so it reads: “The car’s lack of back-end-symmetry would definitely irk Kenneth, a math and physics professor” and it flows better. Or, move the tag to the beginning of the sentence: “As a math and physic professor the car’s lack of back-end-symmetry—the equivalent of an unbalanced equation—would have irked Kenneth” is more subtle and gives more sentence variety. Or explain the connection: “The car’s lack of back-end-symmetry, the automotive equivalent of an unbalanced equation, would definitely irk Kenneth since he was a math and physics professor.” A little too plain and straightforward? ChatGPT says this version emphasizes his profession as the cause for the irk, whereas the original version emphasizes his identity as a professor.
Yes, his expertise is related to the explanation why a broken taillight should have bothered Kenneth (though Google does not give any references to unbalanced equations in physics; maybe the author confused physics with chemistry?) but tagging it as written seems forced, as if the author wanted us to see him check the box for “character vocation” or his justification for why a broken taillight is odd.
This information tag was a red flag, a warning that I shouldn’t expect the highest quality writing. Granted, it is difficult to slip in required context and information to the reader at the opening. The reader needs context but it needs to be worked in naturally and only as required.
I felt as if I were reading a cheap romance novel.
Later, we hear why the main character’s wife did not accompany him to a student theatre performance.
“Charlotte, a real estate agent, begged off. She had a house to show that evening. And frankly, waiting while a prospective buyer checked the number of bedrooms held the promise of more excitement than waiting for Godot.”
Nice joke, maybe intending to show off some humor. But again, this feels forced. If this were a humor story, this degree of forcing would be perfectly acceptable. But, this is supposed to be heading to some sort of thriller tale. To me, a thriller can push the boundaries of what is possible or plausible but only for the needs of the thriller elements of the plot, not to force in a joke.
Two red flags was enough for me. Back to the library it went.